This blog on my nascent website is in response to a request from several of my friends and former students who felt the need for a guide through the Commedia. Without knowing the tradition, they desired to participate in Lectura Dantis, and perhaps in our own ways we can do this scattered though we are as a disparate community across the globe. My hope is that as we read the cantos together, we might share in discoveries and insights without the polarized atmosphere of disagreement and conflict that seems to be part of every educational, cultural and political interaction today. Dante’s Divine Comedy is deep enough and great enough to bear up under almost any approach and interest.
- Dorothy Sayers in her translation and commentary finds Christian theological truths at every level
- Professor Giovanni Mazzotta in his lectures at Yale on Dante [see iTunes U.] focuses on neo-Platonic philosophy and the richness of the Italian language
- Robert and Jean Hollander of Princeton look at the depths of allegorical and literary richness in their notes and translation
- Helen M. Luke in her lectures and subsequent book focuses on Jungian archetypes that she finds throughout
- T. S. Eliot stated that Shakespeare and Dante literally divided the world between them and one could find just as much in one canto of the Divine Comedy as one does in an entire play of Shakespeare
- Louis Boyer claims in his classic works of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s that Dante is the greatest medieval Christian mystic
And in truth, each and every approach continually uncovers more and more nuggets from the Divine Comedy to justify and support that particular point of view. This work is staggeringly rich. It rewards renewed re-readings from many different perspectives. In truth, I have come to it at least seven times in the last fifteen years, and found insights that still surprise and delight me.
In my recent reading of St. Ephrem’s Commentary on the Diatessaron, I came across an apt description of Dante’s work, even though Ephrem was describing Holy Scripture. He was concerned that people would be intimidated by the Holy Word and would, in fact, refuse to read it because it seemed too deep. In modern terms it would be rather like drinking from a fire-hose. Ephrem says, even if you get a smattering from this rich flow, it will be worth it, and one can go back to it. Indeed, he writes, it is a GOOD THING that you can’t learn it all in one reading. It will feed you time and time and time again. So too, with the Commedia.
...Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For if you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm. Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains.
So too, with the Commedia.
In my next posting we will look at different translations and resources for the journey. We will also define a bit what this blog is, and is not. Join me on the journey! Lectura Dantis can enrich us all if we give ourselves to it in good faith and trust and, let’s face it, patience.